Saturday, March 24, 2007

Poetry doesn't sell

I'm often annoyed at how hard it is to get people to buy the books I put considerable time and effort into putting together, and you often hear people say that poetry doesn't sell etc.

Though this is true, it might be useful to take something of a historical view. Here are some facts I gleaned from Robert von Hallberg's "American Poetry and Culture 1945-1980":

In its first decade in print, The Wasteland sold 2000 copies.

Stevens' "Harmonium" sold fewer than 100 copies in its first year of publication (1923-24) even though Stevens had developed something of a reputation over the years publishing poems in journals.

Williams' "Spring and All" was printed in Paris in an edition of 300 copies, most of which were lost on the docks of NY. It received two reviews (both of them in Poetry Magazine).

Creeley's Black Mountain Review had a circulation of about 200 copies.

Between 1952 and 1959 Creeley published seven books of poetry, each one selling between 200 and 600 copies.

It is true that this was a long time ago and different social context, and it is true that things changed in the 1960s.

Scribner brought out Creeley's "For Love" in an edition of 6000 copies. Within ten years he had sold 39,000 copies.

Donald Allen's "The New American Poetry" was published in 1959 - by 1965 it had sold 40,000 copies.

Howl had sold 315,000 copies by 1980.

However much such statistics leave out (such as socio-economic changes), I think it's interesting to think about.


Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

You make a good point. I think to an extent we as poets glamorize those that came before us, especially big names, because I think we're interested in the same for our generation. What I mean is *what* will become *canon*? What will high school students have to memorize of the generations beyond Eliot, Ginsburg, etc.? Perhaps I'm being cynical, but I can't imagine anyone is currently writing hoping that their work goes unread.

I think there is some belief to that the general public was reading poetry at some point, which I'm guessing is probably not true. Granted, I think poetry is probably more incestuous now than it was then, but I'm doubting the "man on the street" type public rushed out to buy one of those 2000 copies of The Wasteland.

I would assume that The Wasteland, Harmonium, Spring and All, and Howl, have never been considered "popular" literature. People have been reading the same trashy stuff for generations. Go to any public library witness the HUGE "Romance Novel" section. I'm guessing this is not a *new* phenomenon.

I was at a reading the other night with a bunch of workshop folks. I wonder how many books are sold at readings vs. other types of venues. Obviously some folks order online or whatever, but I would imagine a lot of books of poetry are like cds by smaller bands: you listen to it, if you like it, you buy it.


10:05 AM  
Blogger CLAY BANES said...

thanks for this report.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Matthew Henriksen said...

It'd be interesting to compare the number of presses putting out what would have at the time been considered serious work, since the numbers are similar, I think, to many of the very small presses I favor.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Pirooz M. Kalayeh said...

Yes, but I will buy your books.

Thank you for the info on Don Mee Choi as well. I will be sure to make contact in the coming week.



2:55 AM  

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